New Zealand Ag Tour (15 to 23 June 2016)
Sam Dohle, Rabobank Hamilton Branch Manager
A joint Rabobank and Vickery Bros farm tour to New Zealand has recently returned with the group of attendees – cropping, beef and sheep producers from the Western District – finding the farm visits both innovative and challenging. The objective of the tour was to take local farmers outside of their comfort zone and obtain a unique view of agriculture in a different environment.
One of the visits that garnered the most interest was the Oete Goat Dairying Enterprise – located just out of Auckland. Established only a year ago, it is owned and operated by Matthew and Sarah Bolton.
The Bolton’s have numerous other farming interests throughout New Zealand, including sheep, beef and dairying. The couple said they were looking for a new challenge and the goat enterprise had provided just what they were looking for.
The enterprise is based on a 120 hectare property, which is mostly sown to short rotation ryegrass pastures, red and white clovers, chicory and plantain. The property is located in a 1200 millimetre rainfall district with an even seasonal spread.
The entire goat herd is housed in a 156 metre by 80 metre barn and are only grazed outside at certain times of the year and only when not milking. The barn complex has been strategically designed to maximise the comfort of animals and ensure clean, warm and disease-free living conditions. The barn is thoroughly cleaned out four times a year, with new litter and straw added each week for bedding.
The undercover system allows the Bolton’s to control all aspects of the goats’ environment and health. Production levels are consistently high and problems are easily controlled in this environment. A dedicated animal health specialist is employed fulltime and their job is to focus solely on all aspects of the animal’s welfare. Tour attendees commented on how quiet and happy the goats were in this environment.
Total goat numbers are currently at 3000 head with only half of these in milk at any one time. Grass is harvested daily in a rotational system and is given as a balanced ration which includes corn and other grains as available. Pastures are feed tested twice a week for protein and energy content to ensure the feed ration is always at its best.
Pastures are in a five year renewal phase and use minimal nitrogen inputs due to the high clover content. A full nutrient budget is completed by the farm and includes the use of litter removed from the shed to be spread back onto the paddocks. Potash and lie are key fertiliser inputs with Olsen P levels varying between 40 and 60.
Kidding happens throughout the year with a gestation length of 150 days. Kids are removed from their mothers and hand raised. This ensures a consistent approach to raising the replacement milking does and minimises risk of problems with milk quality. Reproduction rate is approximately 250 per cent, which ensures a very busy time at kidding.
The farm employs five fulltime staff, as well as Matthew. The enterprise makes extensive use of technology to ensure goats are receiving the best feed rations and are producing the maximum amount of milk consistently. Finding staff has been relatively easy with people regularly approaching Matthew for employment. He attributes this to the fact that goats are clean and easy to work with, compared to milking cows. The entire system is automated and is a very safe and comfortable place to work.
Matthew attributes his innovative approach to farming to the fact that he did come from a traditional family farm business and he spent his entire life learning from others. The Australians on tour were impressed with the high standard of the on-farm development and attention to detail shown by Matthew and his staff.
To find out more about the tour visit: https://www.rabobank.com.au/media-releases/2016/160630-western-district-farmers-tour-leading-nz-farms-and-agribusinesses/